Jane Jacobs, the late, legendary urban planner whose grassroots activism prevented Robert Moses from turning Battery Park into a series of bridges, highways, and on-ramps, wrote at great length of the importance of well-used sidewalks keeping neighborhoods secure. The more eyes on the street, she said, the safer that street.
“In some rich city neighborhoods… such as residential Park Avenue or upper Fifth Avenue in New York,” Jacobs writes, in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, “street watchers are hired. A network of doormen and superintendents, of delivery boys and nursemaids, keeps residential Park Avenue supplied with eyes. At night, with the security of the doormen as a bulwark, dog walkers safely venture forth and supplement the doormen.”
So important are the doormen to the feeling of security, Jacobs maintained, that their loss would wreak havoc on even the finest residential street. If the rents on Park Avenue “were to slip below the point where they could support a plentiful hired neighborhood of doormen…it would undoubtedly become a woefully dangerous street,” she concludes.
Rents on Park Avenue—and listing prices and maintenance fees—are not in danger of slipping anytime soon, and with any luck, we will never know if Jacobs’ dire prediction would come true. But her point is clear: doormen are essential to the security of their buildings—even if providing security is not something they actively do.
“Doormen say—and many tenants agree—that their main job is security,” writes Peter Bearman, a professor of sociology at Columbia, in his study titled, appropriately, Doormen, “but few doormen can ever recall doing anything that was security related, except for protecting tenants from the behavior of other tenants.”